Communication Breakdown

When communication between a customer and a company falls apart, it’s usually because the company representative forgot the #1 rule of great service … It’s Not About You! The example below provided courtesy of Scott Anderson:

I recently called a well-known hardware store chain to confirm the barbecue I’d purchased a week prior was assembled and ready for pick up, as promised.

It wasn’t.

But… no big deal. I still had another few days before my planned event …  involving the barbecue’s christening … was to take place. The woman I spoke with wanted to know how this happened (or didn’t happen), so we retraced my steps. It seemed the problem occurred at the checkout counter.

“When you paid, there was supposed to be a large piece of paper to indicate we were to assemble the barbecue,” she said.

“Yes,” I replied. “I saw that piece of paper.”

“Well, you’re supposed to have that paper,” she said.

I informed her that I had not received a copy, that both the cashier and I had assumed it was the work order for someone to assemble the barbecue.

Her response was:  “Well, I guess there was a communication problem on both ends then.”

She started to wrap up the conversation. She wanted me to agree with her and say something like, “Yeah, I guess you’re right — it’s all good.” And for a split-second, I almost did. But then something clicked and made me think, “no, this isn’t right”.

So I said, “No, I don’t agree with you. And I don’t appreciate you saying there was a communication problem on my end when all I did was pay for a barbecue, agree to have you assemble it and then did not receive the paperwork you’re saying I need to have.”

At this point, if she would had said something like: “You’re right, I probably shouldn’t have said it that way”,  I would have been happy and said “It’s okay, these things happen.” etc.

But instead, she got her back up, she got defensive and she obviously did not want to admit she had worded things incorrectly. Incredibly, she tried to back up her initial statement. She remained insistent there was a communication problem on both ends, and that she, representing the store, should not admit full responsibility for the mix up.

She wouldn’t back down, and she soon realized I wasn’t going to either. She finally gave up and passed me along to her manager. When her manager picked up the phone,it was easy to imagine what had been said about me because even before I’d said a word,  the manager’s tone was defensive and standoffish.

But I was as sweet as mom’s apple pie, and soon the manager could tell I was not a raving lunatic out to prove a point or get someone fired. The situation was resolved quickly and professionally.

The moral of the story? We all make mistakes. That’s how we learn. But be prepared to own up to your mistakes — they’re nothing to be ashamed of. Be the bigger person and admit it when you mis-word something on the phone or speak out of turn or whatever. Let the customer know (or at least think) they’re right. And try to see things from their point of view.

Thanks, Scott, for sharing this story … and enjoy your phonework this week everyone!



0 thoughts on “Communication Breakdown”

    • Yes, Linda, that can be difficult for all of us I think. A good way to think of it is that it’s about delivering service, not about who’s right.


Leave a comment

What's The Phone Lady doing?


  • Remote learning experiences + one-on-one coaching for women entrepreneurs (More info about this three-year program here.)
  • Team and individual coaching with a national moving company to refine their sales process
  • Remote half-day training for provincial tourism representatives
  • Remote seven-part sales training program for US-based SaaS
  • Remote webinar on accounts receivable communication for industrial-services company
  • Remote webinar on validation to college students in entrepreneur program
  • In-person workshop on job search skills for women in the trades
  • Remote half-day webinar on written correspondence to customers

Do you or your team want to improve your communication skills? Do you have a communication question or challenge you'd like to discuss? This quick-to-fill-out form is easy to use and you'll hear from Mary Jane very soon.